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José Cabezón is a respected professor of religious studies and the Fourteenth Dalai Lama Endowed Chair in Tibetan Buddhism and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He studied at Sera Monastic University in South India and completed his Ph.D., studying with Geshe Lhundub Sopa, at the University of Wisconsin. Mandala spoke with José during a visit to Portland, Oregon, in May 2013.
Mandala: Having experienced both monastery life in India and also non-monastic life in the United States, where do you see the intersection of Western culture and Buddhist culture going?
José: That is a very big question, and I think there is no single answer. It is more where our different traditions – or even within traditions – where our different organizations are heading. I think there are many different answers to that. Some traditions still emphasize relying on teachers that come from an Asian background. Other traditions are training their own Western teachers and are trying to make the move to create a Western Sangha that can kind of take over from the Asian teachers. I think it is too early to generalize from one tradition to another.
I’ll tell you a story. It is one of my favorites. When Lama Yeshe invited His Holiness to Spain for the first time [in 1982], I was translator for His Holiness. I never knew Lama Yeshe very well; but one day during this trip, Lama Yeshe invited me to have a meal with him. He asked me, “What do you think about the future of Buddhism in the West?” And I said, “I don’t know. My nature is somewhat pessimistic, so I don’t know. The West is so materialistic, and I don’t know whether authentic Buddhism will really be able to take a foothold.” Lama Yeshe said, “No, I think it will. Maybe not just in any place, but Spain is the place of the future.” So it struck me that then Tenzin Ösel Hita was recognized in Spain. I always took that as a kind of sign that Lama Yeshe saw something as being special about Spain. When I heard that his reincarnation had been recognized in a Spanish boy, I didn’t find it strange.
From Mandala October-December 2013
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